Introduction

As an enthusiast it can be difficult to just "set it and forget it," to assemble a system and decree "this is as good as it's going to get." There's an inherent need to tweak and continue to tweak, to eke every last ounce of performance (within reason) out of our systems. Over the past few years, liquid cooling has become less the province of the extreme enthusiast and more accessible to the average user thanks to closed loop coolers manufactured by Asetek and CoolIT and brought to market by companies like Thermaltake, Antec, and Corsair.

The pump and radiator are only part of the equation, though; part of what makes even a decent closed loop cooling system tick is having a good fan configuration. Reading specs on the fan boxes helps a little, and visiting forums can certainly help, too, but we wanted something a little more definitive. After a couple of weeks of testing, we have results to share.

When dealing with fans being used for radiators, it's important to note that what makes a good case fan may not make a good radiator fan, and vice versa. We've gotten used to reading fan specifications that only list the maximum airflow of the fan, rated in CFM or "Cubic Feet per Minute." In the past couple of years, though, more and more manufacturers have been listing an additional specification, and this is the one we're interested in: static air pressure. Fans which produce high static air pressure are able to better focus and direct airflow, making them more ideal for forcing air through the densely packed fins of a liquid cooling radiator.

The propensity for manufacturers to list the air pressure specification over the past few years coincides with the increased popularity of closed loop liquid coolers, but during the same period of time we've also seen a gradual shift towards quieter computing. Builders place greater emphasis on having their systems run quietly, and why shouldn't they? If you can have good thermal performance with a minimal impact on ambient noise, why wouldn't you?

With these things in mind I've tested a collection of eight fans from Corsair, BitFenix, Nexus, NZXT, Cooler Master, and SilverStone to try and find the best balance between thermal performance and acoustics.

Testing Methodology
POST A COMMENT

112 Comments

View All Comments

  • Ragesystem - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Terrible

    Ignoring the questionable quality of the single pass radiator, or that of an all in one rad, I'm not sure where you pulled those results for the sickleflow, because it's well known that those fans are excellent for radiators. Something isnt right here.

    I would stay away from the noctua nf-p12 if youre going for a heavy oc, they are okay in dual or triple pass rads or in non-oc sitations, they just dont cut it.
    Reply
  • Similicuir - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    I found a (french unfortunatly) test here : http://www.hardware.fr/articles/867-15/noctua-nf-f...

    of NF-F12 PWM, it seems they are also testing it on radiator...doesn't look so great compared to others, especially when you consider their price.
    Reply
  • maxcellerate - Friday, March 15, 2013 - link

    I loved the French article or rather the translation: much more fun not quite knowing what's meant.

    But numbers are the same in any language and the clear winner was the Cooler Master Excalibur; which left favourites like the Cougar Vortex, Arctic Cooling, Scythe and Noctua for dust. And yet it doesn't appear on anybody's list of 'best fans'. It's number 1 position is also borne out in this very pertinent review http://www.techreaction.net/2011/12/20/water-cooli...
    Which goes one step further than the French article, rather than just measuring air flow through a radiator (or not) measure the resultant temperature drop. Which after all is what it's all about (Yes, I go for performance over noise, within reason, I don't want to sit next to a hoover).
    But what's most interesting to me about the techreaction article is that ALL the fans are within a 3 Celsius of each other.
    Which tells me that there's really not much difference fans.
    OK, there's only 15 fans reviewed, and there's no 1.99 'fan-u-like' fan reviewed; but there is a 3.99 Yate Loon which holds it's end up admirably.

    So bottom line is: it's no disaster which fan you stick on your cpu cooler.

    But as we all know, a 3 degree cooler cpu is a happy cpu.

    Though yet again the 3.99 Yate Loon D12SM-12, has to be a no-brainer (if you can find someone who will sell you ONE).

    Then again the Cooler Master Excalibur is 1.8 degree cooler...
    Reply
  • Daggarhawk - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    i agree with other commentators. this is a really interesting article, and helpful. dustin is on point again.

    would love to see the scythe, noctua and thermalright fans reviewed. particularly interested in thermalright since their silver arrow has led the pack in air cooling, and they are known for performance w quietness throughout their line.
    Reply
  • jabelsk - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Specs given by fan manufacturers (just like specs on flat screen TV's) are COMPLETELY MADE UP. I'm glad this story was written so more people can learn the truth. Here's another source of information on the subject:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uUXt7mE6Qg&fe...

    Also another way they mislead the consumer is by perpetuating the idea that fans are built for CFM *OR* static pressure. Physics says as CFM goes down pressure goes up and vice versa. So a good fan will be good at *BOTH* CFM and pressure, not one or the other, just more misleading marketing.
    Reply
  • jabelsk - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Fan specs given by manufacturers (just like specs on flat screen TV's) are COMPLETELY MADE UP. I'm glad this story was done so more people can learn the truth. Here is some more info on the subject:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uUXt7mE6Qg&fe...

    Also another way they mislead consumers is by perpetuating the idea that fans are only good at CFM *OR* static pressure. Physics tells us as CFM goes down pressure goes up and vice versa. A good fan will be good at *BOTH* CFM and pressure, not one or the other, just more misleading marketing.
    Reply
  • jabelsk - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    sry double post. someone delete pls. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Sunday, September 09, 2012 - link

    Both Noctua and Scythe apparently didn't make the cut. People here have already commented about Noctua, so I'll talk about Scythe. What, no Gentle Typhoons? They aren't cheap, but they're darned fine fans. I use Scythe S-Flex (FDB) fans as well, but the Typhoons are probably better for radiator use. Seeing as both Noctua and Scythe are highly regarded in the enthusiast crowd, I'm disappointed to see them missing in action. Reply
  • cronos1013 - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    Dustin,

    OK so by doing this article and ignoring the 2 fans widely recognized as the best radiator fans on the 120mm market, you are showing how little credibility you have in this area, and how you didn't really do ANY research before going about testing these.

    It's time to suck it up, buy 2 more fans and rerun these tests...because come on...nobody wants to know what the best of the under performing fans for radiators are.

    -Chris
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Monday, October 22, 2012 - link

    but what about fans that aren't mounted against one? Surely they will produce different noise than one pressed against a radiator. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now